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    Review: ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ brings the Temptations’ music to life in Costa Mesa
    • October 18, 2023

    Some musicals do wonderfully well simply due to the first two syllables in the word. The music driving “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations,“ which opened Tuesday, Oct. 17 on the Segerstrom Center stage, is cause for celebration and attendance.

    The dozens of pop hits by the Temptations, Motown’s most successful R&B quintet, may be more than a half a century old, but the verve of the group’s singing, as well its synchronized dance moves, are still propulsive and land with feel-great impact.

    While the biographic story of the five original band members feels a bit glossed over, with chunks of standalone songs appearing as much for chronological convenience as serving narrative storytelling, the show is up there with “Jersey Boys” as a look-back musical marvel.

    That mention of “Jersey Boys” is not coincidental. Both jukebox musicals were directed with a knowing eye by Des McAnuff. He clearly understands how pacing makes these ensemble-driven shows tick.

    McAnuff threads the band’s rough and tumble backstory into two or three-minute scenes, just enough narrative weave to provide a reasonable platform for underpinning catchy chunks of 31 songs. These are energetically and faithfully delivered by an efficient 11-piece band.

    The story is a straight-forward rendition of the Detroit group’s formation and sustaining power, with the sole remaining member, Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus), acting as emcee, narrating events through the Temptations’ life and times promised in the title.

    As lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda says in “Hamilton” with the song title “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” this is ultimately a version from one of the group’s least visible members. (It’s as if George Harrison lasted longest and wrote the only bio of the Beatles.)

    Based on Williams’ Temptations memoir, and Dominique Morisseau’s utilitarian book, the musical is a familiar rendering about those who hit it big, but fall prey to the usual, well-chronicled overindulgences of pop music stars recording, touring, feuding and slighting their personal lives.

    These lives are a messy ball of confusion — over the decades, there will be 27 Temptations! Talk about “people moving out, people moving in” — with recreational pharmacology, one of pop music’s enduring miseries, ultimately leading to inter-personal clashes and too-early departures, both from the band and life itself.

    This includes the two splashiest Temptations ever, protean vocalist/life forces David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. Beyond music and dance, a key to this touring production working as well as it does is in its excellent casting of the two performers.

    Elijah Ahmad Lewis is a diabolically apt Ruffin — if nothing else, he implausibly makes Ruffin’s on-stage, thick black-rimmed glasses somehow incredibly cool, just like Ruffin himself. A throaty baritone with great range and power, Lewis also breaks out flashy dance moves (down-to-the-floor splits for a guy this size should not seem this easy).

    As a querulous counterpoint, Jalen Harris’ confident tenor lead gives us the Kendricks voice the show requires. In the cover of the band’s first charting single, 1964’s “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” to the indelible “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” in 1971, Kendricks’ last recording with the band, Harris is impactful as a singer and also as a slim, wiry presence.

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    Sergio Trujillo’s choreography somehow delivers synchronicity but also allows the five to express themselves through individualized movement, a nifty hybrid.

    Opening night sound was satisfactory (sometimes lower ranges can seem muddied or absent early in a Segerstrom run… if the hall is hosting Motown, it’s gotta give us bass lines).

    The staging is unfussy. Effective, minimal props slide on and off and most of the visual impact comes from Peter Negrini’s projection design above and behind the action.

    There are about a half dozen Temptations’ song titles to suggest a punchline for how enjoyable this evening is. Let’s keep it simple: it’s a good bet you’ll walk out of this one on “Cloud Nine.”

    ‘Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations’

    Rating: 3 1/2 stars.

    When: Through Oct. 29; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays

    Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

    Tickets: $29-$129

    Information: 949-556-2787;

    ​ Orange County Register